The Emerald Sea: Exploring the Underwater Wilderness of the North Pacific Coast


147 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55110-091-6
DDC 574.92'53





Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is associate director of programs at the Canadian Museum
of Nature in Ottawa.


Compared to other regions of Canada’s natural heritage, the coastal
zone of the Pacific is relatively poorly known. But the richness of this
area is receiving more attention, as seen in a major display at the
Canadian Museum of Nature, and in this book.

Opening sections on biological diversity are followed by discussions of
the region, the habitats in which land and sea meet, the life in these
habitats, and the interaction of people and the sea. The habitats
include sheltered coasts, fiords, and tidal zones with complex patterns
of temperature and current. The life includes brilliantly colored
sponges, corals, kelp forests, invertebrates, fish, marine mammals, and
“feathery plumose anemones” with diverse modes of feeding, movement,
and reproduction. Human impacts include exploitation, conservation, and
pollution (such as Victoria’s celebrated sewage). Artificial reefs in
the area have a long history, from those of pre-historic Salish to
recent sunken ships.

As is appropriate to a book about a liquid medium, the narrative is
free-flowing and unstructured, moving seamlessly from physical features
through photosynthetic pigments, form and function, and migratory
patterns to issues of conservation. The emphasis, reflected in the
epigraphs, is on the esthetic enjoyment of the sea— the joy of diving,
not marine science or green rage. Largely independent of the text, the
generous photographs (especially of nudibranchs and giant Pacific
octopus) are truly splendid in their detail and intensity. Those
capturing the feeding of a sea urchin to a large wolf eel reinforce the
esthetic emphasis of emotional union with nature rather than analytical
interpretation of, for instance, the adaptiveness of colorations.
Scientific names, suggested readings, and index are provided, together
with a single map (additional ones illustrating the discussion on
depths, currents, and climate would have been useful). This book is the
best next thing to being in the emerald sea itself.


Sanders, Dale., “The Emerald Sea: Exploring the Underwater Wilderness of the North Pacific Coast,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,